As I was walking to dinner with my family in Kansas City last week, I was updating one of my business partners about a tough situation and decision I was having to make for the good of the business. It was something that I didn’t want to do, but a decision I knew needed to be made. Then he said, “I know you have the RESOLVE.” That word stuck with me and carried me through that week. Little did I know how rough last week was going to be. Not only did I have to make that difficult decision, but I also lost my lifelong mentor and had numerous other issues that every business owner encounters. As a business owner, I wish I could say that life gets easier. That it gets to be more predictable, smooth, and easy. But that would be unfair because it’s not true. Business life can be heart-wrenchingly gritty and will poke at your sore spots.
There is a quote that says, “True courage is not the brutal force of vulgar heroes, but the firm resolve of virtue and reason.” One of the biggest gains I have had as a leader recently is building my resilience and confidence in my decision-making. Many of the leaders I coach, just like the rest of us, had to make some tough decisions in the past couple of years while maintaining our “True North”. Now is my decision-making always perfect? No. But with good intentions and good reason, I know I can get close.
Do we ever need to pivot as leaders and go in a different direction? Absolutely. Sometimes, knowing when to give up can be just as important as knowing when to keep going. In any organization, there will always be times when the going gets tough and it seems like the only way out is to give up. But great leaders never give up on the mission even when they must chart a new direction. They have the resolve to see things through to the end. So, what is the secret to their success? How do they always seem to find the strength to keep going when the road gets rocky? That is what I’ll be discussing today!
1. Differentiating Between a Setback and a Roadblock
One of the first things that need to be clear to you and your team is whether you are encountering a setback or a roadblock. To differentiate between them, it’s important to understand what each term means. A setback is an issue or obstacle you encounter along the way that can be overcome. It does not have to be a huge or devastating issue – it can be small or large, but the important thing is that it can be moved past with some effort and perseverance. On the other hand, a roadblock is an issue or obstacle that is much larger and cannot be circumvented no matter how much you have planned or how hard you have worked.
A good example of a setback is when your team encounters a small problem while completing a project. This is likely to be a relatively minor issue and something that can be fixed with some hard work such as a supply chain glitch or an employee that quits. In contrast, a roadblock is an issue that cannot be easily bypassed, such as an unresolvable technical problem or a larger financial concern.
The reason this differentiation is important is that I’ve worked with teams and individuals on teams that “catastrophize” even the smallest hurdle. Understanding the difference between a setback and a roadblock can help your team to settle down a bit and for you to know the best course of action in any situation. You and your team know you keep going and put in more effort when you encounter a setback, or if you need to seek alternative routes and workarounds when you encounter a roadblock.
2. The Importance of Resilience
Once you have identified if you are dealing with a setback or a roadblock, it’s vital to have
resilience and perseverance. In any situation, good leaders keep pushing forward in pursuit of a
goal, despite the challenges or obstacles they face. To become a great leader, you need to
cultivate qualities of resilience and commitment to your cause to be able to find solutions to
problems and move forward, rather than giving in to the status quo. The most resilient leaders have
a growth mindset and are continuously learning. So you might be asking yourself if you are
considered to be resilient. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to see:
● Are you exhausted when faced with setbacks and find it hard to keep trying?
● Are you unable to sustain your energy long enough to bounce back after adversity?
● Are you unable to adapt well to change?
● Are you unable to maintain a positive attitude when faced with conflict?
● Are you unable to find solutions to problems when faced with ambiguity?
● Are you unable to maintain a growth mindset during difficult times?
● Are you unable to be coached?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you could use a tune-up on your resiliency skills. Great leaders often exhibit resolve when facing difficult situations, inspiring their team members to achieve more than they initially thought possible. Leading by example and showing just how far you can go with hard work and dedication can be outstanding examples of what is achievable. With perseverance, you can reach your goals and build even great resiliency for both you and your team.
3. The Difference Between Grit and Determination
Grit and determination are closely related, yet there is a critical difference between the two. Grit,
simply put, is making a concerted effort, and staying focused and determined to reach a goal.
Determination is an internal drive to achieve something. When you are determined it takes a goal
further, giving it context and passion.
Grit requires strength, dedication, and repetitive effort while determination requires mental
discipline and an unwavering commitment. Having grit and determination will help leaders stay the
course and reach great heights. It’s also crucial as a leader to share your experiences and stories
when you have hit rock bottom and stayed strong to keep moving toward the goal. After a bit, you
might get a few eye rolls from people you have worked with for a while, but don’t be fooled! They
find it inspiring! Sharing stories of grit and determination gives team members confidence and
when they find themselves in a position of struggle, they will remember the stories which will serve
as motivation and reassurance to keep pushing forward until they have reached their goal. People
who have storytelling skills are not given enough credit in business.
4. How to Develop Mental Toughness
Developing mental toughness may seem like a daunting task, but there are some simple steps
one can take to develop it:
1. Acknowledge Your Feelings – The first and most important step is to acknowledge the difficult
feelings you are having and face them head-on. Understanding that these thoughts/feelings are
normal and temporary will help in the long run. It is because you care!
2. Develop a Positive Internal Dialogue – One of the best methods for developing mental
toughness is by changing your internal narrative. Replace negative thoughts with positive and
encouraging ones. Optimism can be developed!
3. Focus on What’s in Your Control – Learn to tell yourself what is truly within your control and
what is out of your control. Being mindful of the things you can and cannot do will help you not
get frustrated and expend energy on things you cannot change. Then focus on what you can!
4. Strategic Flexibility – Realize that you are always looking for the best way to achieve the
mission with others. So, while you have a definitive way forward, you must remain flexible leaving
room for continuous learning and improvement.
5. Take Action – Acting is one of the best ways to release energy and focus on the task at hand. It
doesn’t have to be a big step; taking small and measurable actions with confidence in your
reasoning will help in the long run. Plus, your decisiveness will be noticed!
5. The Role of Hope in Leadership
I have always said that people need HOPE! Hope is the cornerstone of any successful change leader. As a leader, it is important to remind yourself and your team that difficult situations and times will pass—there is a shrinking light at the end of the tunnel. As a leader, you must also be aware of how each team member is feeling and respond to them with kindness and compassion. Reminding yourself and others that all these tough times are short-term issues can bring solace and lift morale. Maintaining this positive mindset is an important way for a leader to stay in control, even when the situation feels beyond their control. It is essential to keep the end goal in sight and not get too weighed down by setbacks.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, find something that can give you comfort and hope—grounding yourself in your “Why”, going for a walk, talking to trusted advisors, or even hanging out with your furry friends helps. Having a few small moments of hope in your day can help to bring your energy and focus back on track. There are so many ways to find hope; it is up to the leader to find the one that works for them and their team.
I have always been fascinated by the concept of grit. I’m sure each of you have people in your life that you would say are “gritty” individuals. These are the people who are determined, resilient, and tenacious. They won’t let anything hold them back. They learn and grow from each experience they have. It is the courage, the resiliency, and the power within each of them — not the circumstances outside — that keeps them moving.
I have several people in my life that fit this criteria – but the one that immediately jumps to the top of the list is my mom. Mom came to this country from Switzerland at the age of 21 after losing her dad to a heart attack at age 19 and losing her mom to ovarian cancer at the age of 20. She came to the USA as a nanny hoping to become fluent in English and also have a little adventure. She ended up getting married and staying…eventually raising six kids, being a world away from her siblings and friends, being an upstanding member or her community and in the last few years being a wonderful caretaker to my dad who passed away from Alzheimer’s disease a few months ago. She has always been someone that everyone loves with her positive, unselfish attitude. She is a testament to the concept of grit! This got me to thinking about what an important trait grit is and, as a psychologist, made me wonder – is it hard-wired? Is it something that can be developed? Quite honestly, dear readers, these questions have huge implications for us as influencers, leaders, employers and parents.
The Research Behind Grit
“Grit is passion and perseverance tied to what your core purpose is,” says psychologist and researcher Angela Duckworth. It is about living life like it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Grit is multi-dimensional. It is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal, coupled with a powerful motivation, commitment and hard work to succeed even in the face of adversity. Dr. Duckworth did her initial motivation research at West Point Military Academy, which graduates about 25 percent of the officers in the U.S. Army. Admission to West Point depends heavily on the Whole Candidate Score, which includes SAT scores, IQ, class rank, demonstrated leadership ability, and physical aptitude. Even with such a rigorous admissions process, about 1 in 20 cadets drop out during the summer of training before their first academic year.
Dr. Duckworth’s research was interested in how well grit would predict which students would stay. She had cadets take a very short grit questionnaire in the first two or three days of the summer…then they waited around until the end of the summer. Of all the variables measured, grit was the best predictor of which cadets would stick around through that first difficult summer. In fact, it was a much better predictor than the Whole Candidate Score, which West Point at that time thought was their best predictor of success. It turns out that grit predicts success over and beyond both talent and IQ. When you consider individuals of equal talent and intelligence, the grittier ones do better.
Is Grit Set or Can It Be Developed?
Researchers are discovering that the brain has more neuroplasticity over time than we ever imagined and that fundamental aspects of intelligence can be enhanced through learning. Dr. Duckworth advocates for having a “growth mindset” when looking at various life challenges in which grit might be important. People who hold a growth mindset (vs. a fixed mindset) believe that intelligence can be developed, that the brain is like a muscle that can be trained. She writes “More and more research in psychology and neuroscience supports the growth mindset. We are discovering that the brain has more plasticity over time than we ever imagined; that fundamental aspects of intelligence can be enhanced through learning; and that dedication and persistence in the face of obstacles are key ingredients in outstanding achievement.”
The research does point to certain traits that are important as you consider the competency of grit. As you read through the following list think about how “gritty” you might be and choose at least one possible point and practical application you might focus in on in your own leadership journey:
1. Be Courageous in the Face of Defeat.
Your ability to manage fear of failure is vital and a huge predictor of success. The supremely gritty are not afraid to go down in flames, but rather embrace it as part of life. They understand that there are valuable lessons in defeat and that the vulnerability of tenacity is a pre-requisite for getting to the next level. As Michael Jordan observed “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Practical Application: Accept failure as a natural consequence of trying. No one likes to fail. However, recognizing that if you aren’t failing you certainly are not reaching your full potential or working at the edge of your comfort zone. How often do we stay in bad careers, relationships, or hold on to a terrible investment because our egos are too big to admit me made a mistake? Life is short. If it isn’t working, be courageous, become more comfortable with failure, learn, and move on.
2. Remain Resilient When Others Doubt You.
Resilience is a dynamic combination of optimism, creativity, and confidence, which together empower one to reassess situations and regulate emotion – a behavior many social scientists refer to as…guess what? GRIT! Researchers take it even further and explain that “hardiness” is comprised of three important beliefs: (1) one has a meaningful purpose in life, (2) one can influence one’s surroundings and the outcome of events, and (3) that positive and negative experiences will lead to learning and growth.
Practical Application: Know what your core purpose is and don’t listen to the haters. Resilient people think differently. They know they are here for a reason and the gifts they possess lend to a cause greater than themselves. Once you are clear about your purpose and the contribution you can make your optimism, creativity and confidence will not allow you to listen to those people who doubt you. Resilience is the powering mechanism that draws your head up, moves you forward, and helps you persevere despite whatever obstacles you face along the way. In other words, gritty people believe, “everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright, it is not the end.”
3. Learn From the Best and Practice, Practice, Practice.
In his 2007, best selling book, “Outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell examined the determining conditions required for optimal success. He looked at the best of the best…the Beatles, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs. How did they become so influential? Some of Gladwell’ s findings point to dumb luck. However, the area where Gladwell and Dr. Duckworth’s research intersect is the importance of driving towards goals and lots, and lots and lots of practice…10,000 hours to be exact. It turns out that the time commitment required to have a true competitive edge, even if predisposed with seemingly amazing talent, is at least 20 hours a week over 10 years.
Practical Application: Deliberately practice those specific things you are not good at. Take a lesson from people who are gritty and ask yourself how they approach things. This might be individuals who participate in the Itiderod (over 1,000 miles over frozen tundra!) or Olympic athletes. How do they organize their lives and their days? You can model what they do. World class contenders do not just practice, but deliberately practice. Not like, “I’m here to do a better job today.” But more like “I’m an athlete working on the angle of my elbow as it reaches,” being really specific…break it down and work on the individual parts. You need to work on the hard stuff over and over in order to get better.
That’s my leadership plug for the week…Let me know how you are progressing and stay healthy out there!